First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at email@example.com.
And in this latest chapter of Enotria on Del Paso Boulevard, the longtime fine dining restaurant with Michelin ambitions has transformed into a spot for barbecue and classic American dishes with a modern touch. Cask & Barrel takes the space of Enotria’s former wine bar, while the rest of the building will continue to be used for private events.
Chefs Gabriel Glasier and fiancee Kristel Flores now oversee all the food operations at the building, both at Cask & Barrel and its catering wing. With Cask & Barrel, the two are tapping into a barbecue and whiskey renaissance that’s become popular around Sacramento. Glasier’s resume includes previous executive chef stints at Slocum House and Maranello, and Flores has background in both pastry and sushi preparation. The barbecue and comfort foods at Cask & Barrel are all infused with this kind of white-tablecloth background.
Will Cask & Barrel be the food concept that finally sticks at Enotria, following an 18-year-run that saw major staff turnovers and a few shutdowns? Here’s a taste of how Cask & Barrel is shaping up thus far:
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Menu: Smoked meats take center stage here, including beef and pork ribs, brisket and chicken, but not with your grandad’s approach to barbecue. Glasier’s approach harkens closer to the pages of “Modernist Cuisine” than a grizzled Texas pit boss.
The meats are given an especially slow and low treatment in a pellet smoker, in some cases at just 150 degrees, before being finished in a sous vide water bath. This approach and its emphasis on impeccable temperature control helps the meats retain more moisture and texture than the usual batch of barbecue, though they’re not as smoky as their traditional counterparts. Dialing up the smoke would be a welcome tweak as Cask & Barrel moves forward.
Glasier gives a progressive spin to southern staples and classic American foods throughout the menu. Pork rinds, baked pigeon peas and chicken wings all get play on the menu, while the “carrot mousse” and “popcorn dressing” on a deconstructed salad of smoked beets and pea shoots are nods to Enotria’s past as a haven for modern cooking styles and artful plating.
Price point: At $6, the plump skillet of mac ’n’ cheese is one of the best food deals in town. Flavor-wise, with its gooey aged cheddar and bacon bits, it’s also one of the best we’ve tasted in Sacramento.
Other shared plates cost $6 to $9, including cast-iron corn bread ($5) and hushpuppies with Passmore Ranch catfish nuggets ($8).
A section of the menu dedicated to appetizers, in this case dubbed “bites,” range from $6 for chicharron-like crispy chicken skins and pork rinds, to $12 for steamed mussels. Other first-course-styled offerings include duck liver mousse beignets ($9) and bourbon caramel chicken wings ($8).
Smoked meats can be ordered by the pound or half-pound, and served with house-made pickles and sauces. Both the pork shoulder and pork spare ribs are priced at $12 for a half-pound and $20 for a full pound. Beef brisket costs $13 for a half pound, or $22 for a full sized portion. Smoked chicken thighs and drumsticks cost $10/$18, and beef short ribs are $16/$29.
Overall, the prices at Cask & Barrel are about on point, if not on the cheaper side in some cases, compared to Tank House, Farneheit 250 and other new-school bbq spots around Sacramento.
Ambiance: The vibe’s, well, very much like Enotria. Not much has changed in terms of the wine bar’s former décor, save for a few barrels added to the room and a wooden community table built by Glasier. The atmosphere’s still fairly hushed, with lounge-y electronic music playing innocuously in the background. The operators seem to put a premium on coziness, and it is that, but a few bumps on the volume knob might not be a bad idea to add some vibrancy to the room.
Drinks: The sweet, smokey flavors of barbecue lend them well to whiskey, and you’ll find plenty of that at Cask & Barrel. The list of whiskey in its various forms (Scotch and Irish whisky, bourbon, rye) runs more than 50 bottles deep. The bar also offers five whiskey-based cocktails, and two other house cocktails.
Cask & Barrel also taps into the former Enotria wine cellar, with an array of wines both by the bottle and glass. The offerings highlight California producers, but also take detours to France, South America, Germany and other locales.
Beers are offered in 375 ml or large format bottles, emphasizing California craft breweries (Track 7, North Coast, Firestone Walker), along with selections from Belgium and Germany.
Service: Eager and earnest. Guests were greeted promptly upon entering, and both Glasier and Flores take time to make rounds on the floor to chat with diners and explain the finer details of the menu.
First impressions: The food’s off to a solid start, and this concept could stick, especially given its reasonable pricing. And did we mention that mac ’n’ cheese?
Try it if: You’re down for slow cooked meats and appreciate forward-thinking approaches to comfort foods.
Forget it if: You’re the kind of purist who believes a proper bbq spot should have red checkered tablecloths and look like a rickety rib shack.
CASK & BARREL
Where: 1431 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento
Hours: 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Information: 916-922-6792, www.caskandbarrel916.com